Three restricted forms of Epstein-Barr virus latency counteracting apoptosis in c-myc expressing Burkitt lymphoma cells

Gemma Kelly, Anne Milner, Gouri Baldwin, Andrew Bell, Alan Rickinson

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106 Citations (Scopus)


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a human herpesvirus, transforms B cell growth in vitro through expressing six virus-coded Epstein-Barr nuclear antigens (EBNAs) and two latent membrane proteins (LMPs). In many EBV-associated tumors, however, viral antigen expression is more restricted, and the aetiological role of the virus is unclear. For example, endemic Burkitt lymphoma (BL) classically presents as a monoclonal, c-myc-translocation-positive tumor in which every cell carries EBV as an EBNA1-only (Latency I) infection; such homogeneity among EBV-positive cells, and the lack of EBV-negative comparators, hampers attempts to understand EBV's role in BL pathogenesis. Here, we describe an endemic BL that was unusually heterogeneous at the single-cell level and, in early passage culture, yielded a range of cellular clones, all with the same c-myc translocation but differing in EBV status. Rare EBV-negative cells were isolated alongside EBV-positive cells displaying one of three forms of restricted latency: (i) conventional Latency I expressing EBNA1 only from a WT virus genome, (ii) Wp-restricted latency expressing EBNAs 1, 3A, 3B, 3C, and -LP only from an EBNA2-deleted genome, and (iii) a previously undescribed EBNA2(+)/LMP1(-) latency in which all six EBNAs are expressed again in the absence of the LMPs. Interclonal comparisons showed that each form of EBV infection was associated with a specific degree of protection from apoptosis. Our work suggests that EBV acts as an antiapoptotic rather than a growth-promoting agent in BL by selecting among three transcriptional programs, all of which, unlike the full virus growth-transforming program, remain compatible with high c-myc expression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14935-14940
Number of pages6
JournalNational Academy of Sciences. Proceedings
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2006


  • viral genome integration
  • cell survival
  • viral transformation
  • viral lymphomagenesis


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